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International Group Meets to Assess Guatemala Peace Process

More than five years after a peace accord ended Guatemala's civil war, representatives of governments and international organizations that support the peace process are to meet to assess its progress this week in Guatemala City. As the meeting approached, various sectors of Guatemalan society and diplomatic missions unleashed a wave of criticism of what they say is a stagnated process.

Each morning, Guatemala's national palace guard performs a solemn ceremony in which they change a single white rose laid on the palace's monument to peace.

Palace tour guide Italo Liberati talks to a group of tourists watching the ceremony.

"In 1996 the table where the parts in conflict signed the peace was in that place, so the Guatemala artist Luis Carlos made this sculpture dedicated to the singing of the peace on December 29, 1996, [ending] 36 years of internal war," he told the group.

The daily changing of the rose is a symbol of the constant renewal of the peace process. But as the country nears the fifth meeting of the consultative group, as the donor nations and international organizations are known, many in Guatemala are saying the peace process needs more than a symbolic renewal.

Tom Koenigs is the chief of mission for the United Nations office in charge of monitoring the implementation of the accords. He will present a report to the consultative group this week, assessing progress since their last meeting.

He says that the improvement in the area of human rights that the group hoped for has not happened and the progress made in the implementation of the accords since February 2002 has been disappointing.

The accords ended the armed conflict, but they also set out to address its causes, like poverty, racism, and impunity, while compensating victims of wartime rights violations.

Critics say little has been done to address these issues. They complain that budget allocations for the armed forces are equal to that of wartime, while social spending is lagging.

They cite recent events that they say demonstrate the lack of advances and the government's skewed priorities.

In what was a highly controversial move, the government last week began paying compensation to former paramilitary groups for their obligatory wartime service to the army.

The truth commission report identified these groups as responsible for wartime atrocities. Critics say it is an insult that the government is paying these groups when it has not put in motion the accord-stipulated compensation program for victims of wartime rights violations.

Also last week an appeals court reversed a recent conviction for the 1990 murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack. The October verdict was the first-ever conviction of a high-ranking military officer for a wartime rights violation. Rights groups in Guatemala and abroad have scorned the appeal court's decision as a significant setback for justice.

But critics and government alike agree that the accords are ambitious in scope. Guatemala's Secretary of Peace Catalina Soberanis says the government has made some important advances, but that fulfilling the accords in their entirety is costly and will take time.

She says that many civil society groups and donor nations have recognized that some commitments are so ambitious, that their completion will require at least two more administrations.

Despite the harsh reviews of the current administration's performance, detractors say the peace accords are not only the best framework, but the only one, that can ensure Guatemala a better future.